Paso water group wields major-league muscle

February 9, 2014
Randy Record

Randy Record

Eyes on your water: Second in a series of reports on the North County’s festering water politics. A list of the top 30 land owners over the Paso Robles aquifer is available below this story.

By DANIEL BLACKBURN

Some of California’s biggest players in water politics have become influential figures in the leadership of a group vigorously promoting formation of a management district for the Paso Robles aquifer.

The heavy-hitting individuals possess a wide variety of legal and other professional connections to the inner structure of this state’s water industry. Blended with several of the North County’s most prominent vintners and ranchers, a unit has been formed that commands considerable political punch and resources.

One of the most prominent is Randy Record, an early adviser to individuals who would eventually form the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS). Record is first vice-chair of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD of Southern California), the world’s largest wholesaler of water.

Record’s primary agricultural interests are located in San Jacinto, where he’s a fifth-generation farmer, as well as vice-chairman of the Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) there. He’s a 1976 graduate of Cal Poly; his family purchased the 100-acre Record Family Farms in San Miguel in 2007.

Record told CalCoastNews, “I don’t consider myself to be an advisor, just a member of PRAAGS and someone who has an interest in the area.”

Jerry Reaugh, owner of the 70-acre Sereno Vista Vineyard, is PRAAGS chairman, and he was effusive in praising Record’s participation with the North County group.

“Randy has been very instrumental in advising us,” said Reaugh. “He is extremely well connected, and we are lucky to have someone like that living among us.”

Part of Record’s current responsibility is to represent the Metropolitan Water District on the Southern California Leadership Council, where, according to the EMWD website, he “helps establish water policy.”

Record’s stint as president of the state’s most aggressive and potent water special interest group, the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), ended in January. That association represents more that 440 water districts selling 90 percent of all water delivered statewide. He’s co-chair of ACWA’s Statewide Water Action Plan, which is “planning for California’s water future.”

During the formative stages of another local action group dubbed PRO Water Equity (PWE), Record spent time “poking around” for information about PWE, according to several former PWE members.

Reaugh said many of the current PRAAGS members also are members of a Paso basin “blue ribbon” advisory committee now being phased out.

“It became clear that we needed to start taking action to deal with the area’s water issues, and I think it also became clear that what we needed was a water district,” Reaugh said. “That’s the tried and true way for rural areas to manage their water affairs.”

Asked how he came to be named chairman of PRAAGS, Reaugh laughed and said, “I’m probably the idiot that stood up.”

Ernest Conant

Ernest Conant

A Bakersfield attorney, Ernest A. Conant, a partner in the firm Young Wooldridge, has been appointed general counsel by PRAAGS. Conant represents water districts throughout the state, most notably the Kern Water Bank, whose principal owner is Paramount Farms Inc., a company owned by Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick.

Last year, Resnick added to his inventory the 740-acre Hardham Ranch on the outskirts of southeastern Paso Robles, and has converted it from dry farming and cattle grazing to newly-planted and well-irrigated wine grapes. Today, Resnick’s statewide agribusiness is among the richest in America, and he is by far the world’s most prolific producer of pistachios and almonds.

Among Conant’s legal accomplishments mentioned on his website include the fact that he “has served as general counsel for many different public agencies, including assisting with the development of the Semitropic and Arvin-Edison Water Storage District’s water banking programs, which temporarily store water for various agencies throughout the State.”

He was involved in the development and formation of the Kern Water Bank Authority and serves as its general counsel. Conant was a key figure in the implementation several years ago of the so-called Monterey Amendments, made among State Water Project contractors. That controversial move handed over state water rights to private entities and for the first time opened the door for sales and transfers of water supplies from state and federal conveyance projects.

“We’re very fortunate to have Ernie as counsel,” Record said.

Reaugh, asked if Conant’s experience with water banks and his subsequent engagement as general counsel of PRAAGS caused him concern at the outset, said after a long pause, “I’d have to say no.”

Reaugh then dismissed the concerns of some local residents regarding the possibility of water banking in the North County as “conspiracy thinking.”

“Those issues are almost silly when you think about them,” Reaugh said. “Folks can conjure up a conspiracy all they want, but this is not an area that lends itself to water banking.”

Steve Sinton, treasurer of PRAAGS, owns with his family the 125-acre Shell Creek Vineyards. He was raised on (and now runs) the family’s 12,000-acre Avenales Cattle Co. ranch, attending Shandon schools before graduating from Stanford. He earned his law degree from the University of Colorado in 1972.

After service in the Army, Sinton took a staff attorney’s post with the California Department of Water Resources for five years. He then returned to live at the Avenales Ranch but established a law practice in Sacramento, specializing in water and environmental law. Now he primarily manages cattle operations for Avenales. Until recently, he was chairman of the California Rangeland Trust.

Sinton’s extensive properties include the Shell Creek area, designated by a 2008 county study as one of three “selected recharge alternatives” for state project water project.

According to the final report of the Paso Robles Groundwater Sub-basin Water Banking Feasibility Study, “The locations of the (three) water banking alternatives evaluated in this study were identified primarily based on information describing the local hydrogeologic conditions.”

Media and marketing matters for PRAAGS are being handled by one of the county’s most recognized firms, Barnett Cox of San Luis Obispo.

Other PRAAGS board members are Dana Merrill, Mesa Vineyard Management; Kent Gilmore, Golden Hills Farm; John Crossland, Vineyard Professional Services; Steve Lohr, J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines; Matt Turrentine, Grapevine Land Management; and Kathleen Maas, Pear Valley Vineyards.

Next: A smaller citizens’ group, PRO Water Equity (PWE), finds common ground with PRAAGS, and a fortuitous melding of objectives occurs.

Large acreages dominate proposed district

Thirty property owners in the proposed boundaries of the Paso Robles water basin district own 68 percent of its total acreage — 146,622 of 215,000 acres. The top 15 of those individual property owners control more than 51 percent of the new district’s large owners’ voting capability.

There are approximately 5,000 owners of properties within the district.

Here’s how seats on a local water board would be allocated:

Three members elected on a one-person-one-vote basis by popular vote; two members elected by landowners owning fewer than 40 acres; two members elected by landowners owning between 40 and fewer than 400 acres; two members by those owning more than 400 acres.

Property owner                                                                        Acreage
1.  Farris Hillside LLC (Peck Ranch)                                               30,520.32
2.  Emilee S. Morrison (Camatta Ranch)                                        21,748.88
3.  Estrella Ranch LP De LTD (Hearst Ranch)                                 14,294.08
4.  Johansing Farms LLC (Peter & Barney Johansing)                      6,350.39
5.  San Juan Ranch LLC (John & Brenda Stephenson)                    6,111.90
6.  West Bay Co LLC (Stephen TB Miller/Thornhill Co)                    5,001.12
7.  Estrella Ranch II LP (Hearst Ranch)                                          4,872.59
8.  Pine Canyon Ranch GP (Donald Cavaletto)                                4,301.82
9.  Onderdon Family Trust                                                           4,000.31
10. Kuhnle Properties Trust                                                         3,212.88
11. Blech Ranch Co. LLC                                                              3,014.46
12. Paul Clark                                                                              2,958.59
13. Jaureguy Land Trust                                                               2,853.00
14. La Panza Ranch LLC                                                                2,795.42
15. Stephenson Living Trust                                                         2,786.12
16. Indeck Paso Robles LLC                                                          2,500.24
17. William & Doris Land & Energy Co LLC                                      2,498.25
18. Anderson & Middleton Logging Co.                                          2,481.31
19. Odell Family Trust (survivors trust)                                          2,352.57
20. Brodiaea Inc. A Del Corp                                                         2,292.64
21. Lewis Robert G. Family Trust (Exemption Trust)                        2,267.11
22. Noel Martha                                                                           2,123.51
23. Jerold White Revocable Trust                                                  2,004.50
24. Creston Enterprises LLC                                                         1,971.96
25. Julie Johnson                                                                         1,824.02
26. Hillman Family Trust                                                               1,649.68
27. McDonald Ranch Partnership                                                   1,588.84
28. Lohr Family Vineyards LP                                                        1,579.62
29. Timothy Testerman                                                                1,421.71
30. Tannehill Ranch II LLC                                                            1,254.30
_____________

TOTAL                                     146,622.06

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32 Comments

  1. This county does not have a good track record with respect to water issues. Just look back to the Lake Nacimiento water deal with Monterey County. SLO County essentially gave away all of the water and now its happening again. Unless something is done, including a one-person, one-vote method for selecting board members, control of the largest aquifier west of the Rockies will now be given by the county to a few large landowners.

    So my question is, why do we need this new district? Why doesn’t the county pass regulations, actively manage the basin, and keep control of the basin where it belongs, in the hands of the people, not the rich few who are bankrolling this ill-conceived plan to essentially steal this asset from the people and hand it over to the control of large agri-business concerns.

    (22) 22 Total Votes - 22 up - 0 down
  2. IronMan says:

    There you have it people. This is not about protecting your water rights, but it is about creating a water bank for all of California. The Paso Robles aquifer is the largest west of the Rockies according to several white papers within the state and federal government which promote turning the aquifer into a storage bank for distribution throughout the state. According to the papers, implementing an irrigation district is phase 1 of the process. Phase 2 is charging you for your own water. You pay to pump it, then pay a tax to use it. Larger purchasers pay less per unit, significantly. However, at the end of the year, we all share in the proceeds – small ranchers under 999 acres will always pay. The smaller your ranch the more your water will cost you to use per unit (i.e. 748 gallons). Big property owners will profit handsomely. An owner of a 1,000 acre ranch could make $650,000 a year in this deal, whereas the little guy on 100 acres will pay tens of thousands annually for the privilege of paying to pump their own water. What a scam and now you have it, the head of MWD is involved. SLO bureaucrats manipulated things to gain control over Santa Margarita and Cayucos water rights just like the MWD is attempting to manipulate things now in Paso. Local bureaucrats see this as a win – control over the aquifer will ensure that both Atascadero and Paso Robles get a piece – this is an ugly power play with individual property rights at stake.

    (35) 37 Total Votes - 36 up - 1 down
  3. pasoman2 says:

    Article say’s it all.
    Now is the time to stand up for your rights.
    County Supervisor’s what are you going to do?

    (26) 28 Total Votes - 27 up - 1 down
  4. SLOBIRD says:

    This article is telling the picture of Paso’s future water issues in a very dark light. They now bring in the big players to make sure this is a done deal. Small property owners are screwed if this plan goes through and eventually will affect the whole County. Greed is a terrible sin!

    (29) 31 Total Votes - 30 up - 1 down
  5. Claudia Engel says:

    WOW………The History of The California Water Wars is not going away.

    This story is classic, challenging and stranger than fiction as time goes on.

    (20) 22 Total Votes - 21 up - 1 down
    • NCGuy says:

      I agree with your comment. However why the hell would you “second” the vote to endorse this corrupt district as a member of the Blue Ribbon Committee, Claudia?

      (6) 6 Total Votes - 6 up - 0 down
  6. Citizen says:

    Randy Record is the 1st vice chair of the Metropolitan Water District described in today’s LA Times as part of the privatization problem with the State Water Project and the deal that allows nut trees and grape vines to have priority for water over annual food crops and alfalfa/hay for cattle.

    “Another constraint dates from the so-called Monterey Amendments, a backroom deal reached in 1994 between the State Water Project and several water contractors, including the Metropolitan Water District and private Paramount Farms. Paramount is owned by Roll Global, the corporate arm of Beverly Hills billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who are better known as the purveyors of Fiji Water and Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice. Paramount also is the largest grower and processor of almonds and pistachios in the world, in part because the Monterey deal gave it access to a permanent supply of water. That’s necessary for the cultivation of nut trees, which can’t survive interruptions in water.”

    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-hiltzik-20140207,0,1425489.column#ixzz2stPgdg9H

    What are water brokers, Randy Record and Stewart Resnick, doing in our County business?

    (42) 42 Total Votes - 42 up - 0 down
    • HorseNutz says:

      They have been plotting this since around 2000. Ask Steve Sinton, in the RAC meeting minutes 2003? he states it is going to be a 10 year process to get SWP… hmmm

      -Next move, lets get a significant number of larger property and AG owners to sign the PRIOR Agreement which effectively ties them up until the plan can be implemented in conjunction with SLO Flood Control and the Urgency Ordinance in 2013. “Your Water Rights are as good as Adjudicated” is what is being said to the PRIOR Agreement members. What a farce, just stay with me a little longer until we get the AB3030/District Formed and then we can screw you bigtime. (sheep to slaughter)

      -Create PRAAGS (Kern Water Bank Attorney advises group… Jerry Reagh does not even know that Resnick had any connection until August of this year… You are the Head of this organization and dont even know your own players/advisors?)

      -Create PWE to create turmoil and emotional frenzy in the community. (Founder worked for the Kern Water Bank, moves to Paso in 2000? Hires Attorney that represented the group taking water rights from citizens in Santa Maria…what, I thought PWE was to protect the little guy? How much did he cost? Sounds like a tall order for a number of people with dry wells who can now afford him.)

      -Have PRAAGS/PWE strike a compromise… khumbya lets pat ourselves on the back that we have come up with a “hard fought” compromise and look at the struggle we had creating a 9 member board. Good Citizens of N. County, we are looking out for you.

      -Nobody with laymen knowledge of Water Code can see that we have all of the power we need to transfer the water out of the PRGWB by placing cute fuzzy names like “exchange/replentisment/balancing/conjunctive use”, etc.

      -Grease the politico, see $10k donation to PASO Parks by Justin Winery. Make phone call to Jerry Brown have Karen Ray seated on BOS to get the Urgency Vote. The list goes on.

      -Bank on citizens being too lazy and uninformed to understand the “Powers” that we are going to be given, so we can suck them dry both monitarily and water wise.

      -If needed, we can get Barack to visit Fresno to put a little extra pressure on the drought politics in California.

      Roadmap to becoming uber powerful and wealthy.

      PROTECT YOUR WATER & PROPERTY RIGHTS PEOPLE. YOU HAVE TO FIGHT TO KEEP WHAT YOU HAVE OR SOMEONE WILL TAKE IT!

      MOLON LABE

      (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  7. Mr. Holly says:

    Would be nice to see equal representation from the little guy, those home owners whose wells are drying up. They will be the big losers again as big money and politics will prevail.

    (36) 36 Total Votes - 36 up - 0 down
    • NCGuy says:

      ther is no representation for the “little guy” in PRAAGS/PWE. Little guys were sold out by PWE.

      (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  8. despicableme says:

    I do not trust them at all. I think we are in deep dooo dooo.

    (42) 44 Total Votes - 43 up - 1 down
  9. debbieisout says:

    I don’t trust Praags or Pro Water Equity. They are not telling us everything. Water has become gold, someone is going to make money from Paso Robles water.

    (39) 45 Total Votes - 42 up - 3 down
    • DonKeyhoti says:

      Let’s see if I understand. The Paags experts are bad but Cindy Steinbeck’s experts and her lawyers are good. Randy Record, one of the most recognized experts on water issues in the state is bad just because he knows a lot of stuff about how water districts work. COLAB and their power and money are good, oh wait, they might be bad. The big landowners and deep pocket money behind the lawsuits are good. Dang, but if they are rich and big they could be bad. A guy that owns 5 acres must be poor and he couldn’t be rich or have influence in the county right? Wait, are our County and City officials rich or poor? Own a lot of land or a little? The County and Cities have lawyers too. Are they good or bad?

      So they are not telling us everything? What is it? You must know? Why don’t you tell us? The Praags and Pro Water Equity meetings have been open to the public. The district formation process will be public and out there for all to see. There have been at least 5 Praags meetings and they’ve answered every question asked.

      Quit hiding behind your curtain and tell us all you know about how a water district that will be lead by your fellow neighbors rich and not so rich, some who own a lot of land and some who don’t are going to steal you water? Tell us why this is bad.

      Why don’t all you bomb throwers run for the district board to make sure “they” don’t sell all our water to Los Angeles. Stop the innuendo and agitprop and become part of the solution.

      (-7) 39 Total Votes - 16 up - 23 down
      • IronHub says:

        So, asking questions and hoping for truthful answers is “throwing bombs?”

        (21) 29 Total Votes - 25 up - 4 down
        • DonKeyhoti says:

          The Praags folks have laid it out in public and have explained how the board of directors will be elected. The proposed district will take up their powers from a water governance structure called AB3030. The County Board of Supervisors and the Public Works Department have been working on this for years. It’s open and out there for you to see.

          After hearing all this, people like you think this is not telling the truth. Cindy Steinbeck sat in the same meeting and heard from every speaker there that the proposed district will not export water. That is already in a County Policty Document from 2003. It’s on the County’s website for all to see. Yet she walked out of that meeting and said; “Praags is not telling the truth about exporting water.”

          So I don’t think you are telling us everything you know. Look out here comes a bomb.

          (-8) 26 Total Votes - 9 up - 17 down
          • debbieisout says:

            DonKeyhoti, just how many vines do you own? If you are small grower, you will be sorry when they say no water for you, unless you are willing to give them BIG Bucks (money). Why do we need to rush into a water district? You had better wake up and smell the roses, Resnick is here to take over the aquifer!

            (3) 7 Total Votes - 5 up - 2 down
          • HorseNutz says:

            Were you at the Pear Valley meeting that PRAAGS/PWE held??? You must have been the only one in the back of the room drinking the PRAAGS/PWE COOL-AID when members of PRAAGS/PWE actually said that they were looking to “exchange” water with Semitropic Water Storage District in Kern; what do you think they meant? This admission only came after they were pressed by concerned citizens.

            Once the Distirict is formed, there are so many huge loop holes that the Water Bank Attorney for PRAAGS can exploit you can drive a 747 through them.

            Cindy Steinbeck is standing up for your rights too! Don’t attack her… you will be thanking her someday.

            (6) 8 Total Votes - 7 up - 1 down

Comments are closed.